Ask Alex

1 Feb 2004 by BusinessTraveller
Business Traveller readers ask our resident travel expert Alex about: Taking advantage of the weak dollar when buying air tickets, corporate traveller scams, the problems of 'hidden' codeshares, and phone booking surcharges. Dollar deals I need to book a couple of premium fare round-the-world tickets (RTW) during the coming year. With the US dollar declining in value is it now worthwhile investigating ticket prices in countries where air tickets are quoted in this currency? Chris Morley, Reading, Berkshire, UK Outside the US, airlines tend to charge US dollar fares in areas like Latin America and Africa where currencies are weak. There are savings to be made so long as the dollar remains low and before the airlines readjust their prices. Past experience suggests the best savings are for first and business rather than economy class. One reader reports buying a first class four continents Oneworld RTW ticket in Africa, having paid  $5,100 (£2,780 at current rates of exchange). That sum took him to London, on to Asia and across the Pacific to North and South America before returning him home. A similar ticket purchased in London would have cost more than twice as much. There's no easy way of comparing prices on a country by country basis. You really have to contact the airline in each country and check its RTW fares. Main participants in the RTW market are the alliances: Oneworld (members include BA, Qantas and American), Star  (SIA,Lufthansa and United) and Skyteam (Air France, Delta and Korean). Rip off rumours Our company makes use of consultants whom we usually book in business or, occasionally, first class when they fly long distance. My boss is worried about a recent article in a national newspaper which suggested that some travellers exchange their posh tickets at the airport for a seat in economy class and then pocket the difference. Is this true ? Sue Chambers, London, UK No. If it was that easy then high flying executives would be augmenting their salaries by tens of thousands of pounds a year tax free and the airlines' premium cabins would be almost empty. To stop fraud like this the airlines have always insisted that any refund (either for an unused ticket or a class downgrade) be made through the issuing office. That is to ensure the refund goes to the person or company who bought the ticket. Swiss swizz I recently took my first flight on Swiss and am very disappointed. I booked online to fly Heathrow to Geneva both ways with this airline. My outward flight happened to be operated by British Airways as part of a code share. I got a decent snack-like meal. On my return, the flight was a Swiss one. I was amazed to find that I had to pay for drinks and food. Why didn't Swiss tell me in advance? Tony Armstrong, Oxford, Oxon, UK Swiss says that if you book by phone then reservation staff are instructed to alert you to these points. But its website (www.swiss.com) is less clear. All flights (irrespective of whether they're operated by BA or Swiss) bear the LX (Swiss) code. You must click on the flight number to ascertain the operator. The airline says that its new catering policy is explained when you click a "Swiss in Europe" link although this appears at the end of the booking process. You can book any of these flights using the BA site (www.ba.com) where the fares are practically identical. The BA site clearly displays both carriers. There's also a note at the top of the flight display page saying that "flights operated by Swiss require payment on board for economy cabin refreshments." Website woes I want to fly with British Airways from London to Faro and then return from Lisbon. The BA website (www.ba.com) won't let me book this arrangement online. When I phoned reservations I was told that I would have to pay a £15 surcharge as I wasn't booking on the internet. Why should I have to pay more through no fault of mine? Harvey Stanbrook, Chichester, UK The airlines are becoming increasingly hard nosed and less willing to make exceptions. BA says its website is primarily designed to sell point-to-point or simple transfer tickets which the vast majority of its customers want to buy online. "We want to encourage passengers to booonline so we can continue to sustain low-cost short-haul fares," said a spokesman. "The £15 fee reflects the increased cost of doing the same transaction on the telephone. It is waived for long-haul bookings as these are deemed to be more complicated." Console yourself that BA's more transparent pricing policy, where flights are priced independently, means that overall you will still be paying less than was the case a year a couple of years ago.
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